Language: Mandarin Chinese
Source: Classical literature
Shìwèi Qīnjūn (侍衛親軍) was the Imperial Bodyguard of the Qing dynasty. An elite unit within the elite Eight Banners troops, they were generally picked from the most capable and loyal soldiers.
Most Imperial Guards came from the Upper Three Banners; the Plain Yellow, Bordered Yellow, and Plain White.
Imperial guardsmen were among the best-paid soldiers in the realm, with exclusive rights to wearing colors and materials normally only reserved to the emperor. This included golden ornaments, certain pearls and gemstones, and the use of imperial golden yellow silk as a grip wrap on their swords.1
Officers of the Imperial bodyguard paid up to 600 taels of silver for their equipment to which they would often apply their personal tastes. This lead to them being somewhat of fashion icons among Qing soldiers.2
The Qianlong emperor followed by his guards during the Grand Review of the Troops, Beijing.
The Qianlong emperor hunting with some of his guards.
The Imperial Guard was lead by two Shìwèi Nèi Dàchén (侍衛內大臣) or "Chamberlain of the Guards". (Grade 1a).
Next were a varying number of Nèi Dàchén (內大臣) or Senior Assistant Chamberlain. (Grade 2a).
They lead up to 200 Shìwèi (侍衛) or "Imperial Bodyguards" divided over three grades. (Grade 3a - 5a).3
Outside the palace
Their palace duty often meant they had a fairly close relationship with the emperor which lead many to rise up to even more important ranks. As the emperor's most trusted men, he often sent out one of his imperial bodyguards to border conflicts as interim managers. Many of them became sung war heroes, whose portraits were hung in the Zǐguāng Gé (紫光閣) or "Pavilion of Purple Brightness":
Imperial Bodyguard Esentei
Imperial Bodyguard of the Qianqingmen [palace gate], Imperial Councillor, Commander of the Banner Guard, Commander of the Northwest Border Militia, Baron of the first rank, with the designation Cultured Hero; Esentei.
"Once when his Tiger-Hunting Brigade was surrounded
he wanted to die with his men,
and whenever ordered to advance and exterminate rebels,
he was delighted to roll up his sleeves and set to it.
Since he was greatly experienced,
I had him take part in strategic planning,
and when he was placed in full charge, he continued to have success
after success." 4
Imperial Bodyguard Purpu
Imperial Bodyguard of the Antechamber (领队大臣), Commander of the Northwest Border Militia, Banner General, Baron of the third rank, with the designation Hero of Merit, Purpu.
"His father was the son of Ridi, Zifeinong'er, who when ordered to
advance and exterminate rebels exerted himself to the utmost - sparing nothing.
Weaponed and armoured, sheltering in snowy dugouts on icy
mountains, he was so able at engaging and withdrawing that enemies
dared not resist him." 5
Imperial Bodyguard Janggimboo
Metropolitan Museum, New York. Accession number: 1986.206
Jianggimboo, Imperial Guard of the First Rank and Hurca Baturu.
"With bare hands [he tackled] a huge whale.
Capturing [members of] the Oirat at the battlefield.
Many were the rebel heads
skewered on his lance.
Carrying an official summons to war from Pizhan,
When he arrived at Bar Kol,
He did not [waste time to] brush the mane of his steed.
[Immediately he] turned back to report to his commander." 6
1. Pu Jiang et al., eds., Huangchao Liqi Tushi (皇朝禮器圖式), or "Illustrated Regulations on the Ceremonial Paraphernalia of the Dynasty", Palace Edition of 1766 (British Library, 15300.e.1). This version is based on a manuscript of 1759.
2. Mark C. Elliott; The Manchu Way. Stanford University Press, 2001. Page 441.
3. Ibid. Page 366.
4. See Battle of Qurman.